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war in europe

strobe talbott

how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?

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A long-time friend of President Clinton, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is the administration's chief link to Russia. In a series of marathon meetings, Talbott, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin hashed out the war-ending deal that Milosevic finally accepted on June 3, 1999. Following the surprise deployment of Russian troops into Kosovo at the end of the war, Talbott also negotiated the details of Russia's participation in the KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Leading up to the NATO summit, give me a sense of what the concerns were. Bombing had been going on for a while, about a month, what was the feeling here about the summit, the nervousness?

Well, there were several issues. One, of course, was was the bombing going to work? Was the military campaign going to accomplish its objective? And its objective was very clear and relatively simple, and that is that Milosevic and the Serb forces had to get out of Kosovo and let the international community come in and re-establish an environment which the refugees could come home and these people could live safe and relatively normal lives. So the real question was, we had a military campaign underway, we had been bombing for over three weeks, nearly four weeks by the time of the NATO summit, so question one was when does the other guy say "Uncle" and accept the conditions? Now there were also, of course, concerns in the alliance because inevitably despite the best and really heroic efforts of the alliance to minimize civilian casualties, there had been civilian casualties, and because when in an alliance of democracies, public opinion, quite rightly, accounts for a great deal, there was mounting concern about that.

And then of course there was the issue of the Russians. Russia had been part of the diplomatic effort to stave off the need for taking military action, very much part through the contact group of an international effort with the United States and key European allies to persuade Milosevic to do the right and reasonable thing. When that effort failed however and the alliance felt it had no choice but to use force, the Russians were vehemently opposed to it, and were increasingly so as the bombing campaign continued. So one of the several concerns of the allies and the partners who gathered in Washington-- minus the Russians, even though the Russians had been invited--was what about Russia?

A sense of mounting stress on that relationship?

Yes, absolutely. There was a real sense of tension building, not just over the Russian opposition to the NATO bombing campaign, but there was widespread feeling that that issue was going to spoil much else of what was going on between the US and Russia, between the West and Russia, between NATO and Russia. Remember that for the previous couple of years we have been developing a co-operative and quite promising relationship between NATO and Russia, and that was increasingly seen as in jeopardy.

So you've got the prospect of the alliance being at odds as a unity, and then you've got the bigger issue--where is Russia going with this thing.

Well, then as I say, there was this prior question of whether the bombing was going to accomplish its political objective. This . . . was the conduct of policy by other means, the pursuit of political ends by other means, namely military means.

There is a call that comes in towards the end of the summit from President Yeltsin to President Clinton. Can you account for me how that happened and what the significance was?

Well, it had originally been hoped that President Yeltsin, or at least a very senior official of the Russian government would agree to be part of this summit because it wasn't just about NATO, it wasn't just a celebration of the 50th anniversary of NATO, it was also a working meeting to develop the NATO/Russia partnership, and I think there might have been, there almost certainly would have been high level Russian participation of some kind, had it not been for the Kosovo conflict, but President Clinton stepped out of the meeting with those who did come to Washington in order to talk on the telephone to President Yeltsin, and it was an extremely intense, very substantive conversation, and among other things involved President Yeltsin was telling President Clinton a bit more about his plans to designate Viktor Chernomyrdin as the Russian presidential envoy to work with us and others to see if there might be a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

So he sends Chernomyrdin to Washington. Tell me about this visit.

Well, with the wisdom of hindsight, I think it can be seen as a bit of a turning point, because until Viktor Chernomyrdin engaged on behalf of President Yeltsin and the Russian government, the Russian position was basically kind of just say no; the Russian position was to kind of stamp its feet and demand an end to the bombing and to complain bitterly about what NATO was doing, and to predict the most disastrous consequences. But when President Yeltsin decided to dispatch Mr. Chernomyrdin, who was a close ally and associate of his, and had been his prime minister for a long time, it represented an attempt to do more than just complain and object and protest and threaten, it represented an attempt to use the prestige of Russia and the diplomatic energy of Russia and the skills of Mr. Chernomyrdin to see if despite our disagreement over the need for the bombing campaign, we could agree on the terms by which the bombing campaign could come to an end, and of course it didn't happen instantaneously but in due course that did occur.

You got together a series of meetings, you met with him and the discussions turned towards the idea of a third party. Why was that necessary, and describe for me, if you will, how the third party, Mr. Ahtisaari, President Ahtisaari was selected.

The notion was  Chernomyrdin would be the hammer and  pound away on Milosevic, and President Ahtisaari would be the anvil against who the pounding would take place, so that Milosevic would know what he had to do to get the bombing stopped. It was really originally Mr. Chernomyrdin's idea to team up with another international figure. He put this idea to Vice President Gore in a meeting at the Vice President's residence late one night after he had arrived in Washington, and then developed it further the next morning over a working breakfast. . . . Mr. Chernomyrdin's logic went like this. Russia has a certain amount of influence with Milosevic and the Serbs, Russia also has its own position, and Russia's position is not identical, to put it mildly, with NATO's position, perhaps it would be a good idea to find somebody of real international stature, preferably and in fact indispensably somebody who does not represent a NATO member state, that is not directly involved in the bombing, but whose own views will reinforce the need for Milosevic to do what the international community as a whole, including NATO, is demanding. And it was Secretary Albright actually who, listening to this description, to this concept, proposed the name of Martti Ahtisaari, the President of Finland, and this had a number of obvious advantages. President Ahtisaari is the president of a non-aligned country, a country that was taking on the presidency of the European Union, and President Ahtisaari has considerable experience in the Balkans and international peace-keeping, considerable experience with the United Nations, and immense status in the world, and he is also a very very firm tough negotiator, and a statesman of great experience, so all of this together made him seem like the right person to fit the bill that Mr. Chernomyrdin was describing, and when Secretary Albright made this proposal, Mr. Chernomyrdin instantly said that it was a good idea, and thus was born what we came to call the hammer and anvil scenario. The notion was that Chernomyrdin would be the hammer and would pound away on Milosevic, and President Ahtisaari would be the anvil against who the pounding would take place, so that Milosevic would know what he had to do in order to get the bombing stopped.

What was your assessment, as you prepared to get these negotiations underway, what was your assessment of where Milosevic was? Was Chernomyrdin giving you some indication that he was ready to give up the sword?

No, not really. I think where Milosevic was quite clear and remained the case for some time, and that is he hoped to hold out, he hoped to prevail, he hoped that the will of NATO would break before his own will and that of his colleagues broke, he was looking for ways to play various parts of the international community off against each other. He was a master at what's sometimes called forum shopping, that means you go from one international setting to another and try to figure out which one is offering the best deal from Belgrade's standpoint and go with that one, and part of the logic of what became then the tri-lateral diplomacy among President Ahtisaari, Mr. Chernomyrdin and ourselves was to basically close down the gaps that existed among the various parts of the international community. You had the European Union setting a set of conditions, you had the G8, the eight major industrialized democracies setting their conditions, the United Nations, particularly Secretary General Annan was saying things, and then you had NATO taking its own position, which it made quite clear during the NATO summit, and we didn't want there to be gaps through which Milosevic would be able to finagle and maneuver, and ultimately that strategy worked, but it took some doing.

A few days after those meetings, May 7th, during a big night of bombing, the Chinese Embassy is hit. How did that affect what you were doing?

Well, of course it had major repercussions. The alliance was very quick to acknowledge that this was a dreadful mistake, and the reasons for it were spelled out as quickly as the reasons could be determined. As for the tri-lateral effort that was underway with President Ahtisaari, Mr. Chernomyrdin and myself, it obviously didn't help, particularly with Mr. Chernomyrdin. In fact, he went off to Beijing, made a quick trip to Beijing and obviously the Chinese used the occasion to read the Riot Act to him, not so much to him, but to make sure that he conveyed the message back to us, how unhappy they were. But I would say it slowed down the diplomacy a little bit, but not fatally.

So you get together in Helsinki and you get this underway. At that point in time what, briefly what are the issues that come to the forefront? What are the obstacles that you see before you?

I would describe it this way. The argument that we made to our Russian and Finnish and other colleagues was that Milosevic needed to understand in quite specific precise terms what it would take for the bombing to end. There were these various statements out there from the G8, the EU, and from Secretary General Annan, and then there were the NATO conditions. In the final analysis NATO was going to stop bombing only when NATO's conditions were fulfilled, so we used the tri-lateral process, including in Helsinki, to see if we could persuade particularly the Russians, who needed more persuading. President Ahtisaari I think was convinced of the rightness and the efficacy of the NATO conditions, that those conditions had to be quite precise, and there were two issues that continued to dominate the diplomacy from then until the [conclusion] of the whole episode. One was on the question of the withdrawal of the Serb armed forces, the Serb Special Police and the Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo. We felt that all, every single one of the characters in those three categories had to get out of Kosovo, and that was for a very simple reason -- unless they were gone in their entirety, the refugees were not going to come back because it would be too dangerous. Moreover, it would be dangerous for peacekeepers who went in under those circumstances, they would either be subject to violence from residual Serb armed forces in Kosovo, or they would get caught in the crossfire between Kosovo, Albanian militants and the Serbs, so total withdrawal was a big issue, and the Russians for quite some time were resistant of that. In fact, Mr. Chernomyrdin and I agreed early on that the biggest disagreement between us came down to a three letter word. It happens to be three letters both in Russian and English, and that is the word "all" - ALL. We kept trying to insert into the document that we hoped would ensue from this whole project the word "all", and the Russians resisted that, although not until the bitter end.

The second issue had to do with NATO's role in the international security force. The Russians were prepared to accept the proposition there would have to be an international presence in Kosovo, we felt that it was important that it be defined as a security presence, indeed as a military presence, and that it be firmly understood on everybody's part that NATO would be at the core of this presence. . . . So NATO at the core and the word "ALL", those were the two issues.

Your negotiations proceeded to Moscow, and some days later to Stalin's dacha. Tell me about that - what was it like for you, give me a sense of this, set the scene for me if you would.

We met in a government guest house, not actually in the dacha itself, right next door to the dacha, and the talks were long and tough and they went late into the night. There was a three-sided table--the Finnish, the Russian, the American delegations--and fairly early on I made the point that there was a missing party to these talks. . . . I hoped we could agree a lot on the terms for ending the bombing, but that really wasn't decisive, what was decisive was what I called "the man in the empty chair," and I actually got up at one point and brought an empty chair from the corner of the room and put it down at the corner of the table, and that was Milosevic. In other words, would we be able to influence what he did, and as the negotiations continued, and there were two meetings at Stalin's dacha, we would often use the device of pointing to the empty chair down at the end of the table and saying, "Yes, but what about that guy?"

What was achieved at those meetings, what was the significance of those?

We narrowed some but not all of the differences between us. During the second of the meetings at Stalin's dacha the news broke that the international war crimes tribunal was issuing an indictment against Milosevic and others in his leadership, since Mr. Chernomyrdin was about to go to Belgrade on one of his several missions there the next day. He was, to put it mildly, not very sanguine about the effect that the indictment was going to have on Milosevic's receptivity to his message, which is you know, do what's necessary to get the bombing stopped, accept these conditions. It turned out that in fact the indictment does not seem to have had a particularly negative effect on Milosevic's ultimate willingness to accept the conditions, but I think for good reason Mr. Chernomyrdin didn't know what the effect would be when this story broke, and it was coming over CNN even as we were negotiating.

He was upset about it?

Yes. He was also, I think, more than a little suspicious about the motivation. I mean the timing struck him as curious and he wondered if this wasn't somebody trying to sabotage his diplomacy, but clearly President Ahtisaari and I had an interest in the success of his diplomacy, but in any event that was one of many storms that ended up passing.

On June 1st you meet again outside Bonn, at Petersburg Guest House, how did you come to that place, and who was trying to get you there?

Our sense was that the Russians felt that time was running out for this diplomacy, and that Chernomyrdin had perhaps one more trip to Belgrade. The Russians very much wanted, as did we, for President Ahtisaari to be able to accompany Chernomyrdin so that the concept of hammer and anvil could finally be brought to bear. So we sensed that perhaps we were about to have something of a breakthrough in the diplomacy with the Russians and of course the Finns, but we recognized that even if that was true, that didn't necessarily mean a breakthrough in the war because of the problem of the guy in the empty chair, or the guy who wasn't there, but we felt there was a better chance of persuading the man in the empty chair, Milosevic, to accept these conditions if we could have a high degree of agreement among the three of us, that is Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari and myself, so we went to the meeting at the Petersburg Guest House outside of Bonn, determined if possible to have that be the decisive meeting, as it turned out to be.

[Chernomyrdin] came to the Petersburg prepared to close and he wanted this to be the decisive week, as indeed it turned out to be. They were tough negotiations, they started about three o'clock in the afternoon and we worked right through a dinner that German Chancellor Schroeder participated in. I ducked out a couple of times to call back to talk to Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger, to make sure that they were comfortable with the way the

negotiations were going. We stayed at it until four o'clock in the morning, and it was not at all clear to me that we were going to get an agreement with them. President Ahtisaari was absolutely indefatigable in trying to bring Mr. Chernomyrdin and me closer together. When we turned in at 4.00 a.m. I didn't know what was going to happen, in fact I was awakened at 7 o'clock in the morning by a reporter saying that he understood that the Russian delegation was going home mad and that the talks had fallen apart. I didn't entirely exclude the possibility the reporter knew something I didn't, it turned out to be an error, and we resumed and then continued to negotiate right up to the point where it was really the last possible moment for Mr. Chernomyrdin and President Ahtisaari to get in their separate airplanes and fly to Belgrade because there were some, shall we say, practical and technical considerations limiting the window for them to fly down there. Remember there was a war going on, and we had to make sure that at least on the NATO side that there was safe passage for them, but we conducted those negotiations up to the last moment, and just before the end, in the morning that the two men went down to Belgrade, the Russians put in to their own draft text of the agreement to take to Belgrade the word "ALL", all Serbian forces out of Kosovo, and that was a real breakthrough.

There were other interests and other pressures in terms of closing the deal. Members of the alliance were certainly aware of the discussions that were taking place about ground troops. You, I assume, were talking to Mr. Berger as well, and what was he telling you about the decision timing here with regard to ground troops?

Well, the key issue there was that we take no option off the table, we thought it would be a fatal mistake to signal to Milosevic that all he had to do was hold out long enough that the alliance would not be willing or able to go the next step, which is to say from an air war to a ground war. If Milosevic had ever been able to reliably make that calculation, I think the game would have been lost, so in talking to Mr. Berger and indeed to Secretary Albright, who was in the thick of the discussions back here, they just made sure that I was in a position to convey to particularly Mr. Chernomyrdin, because the Russians were talking to the Yugoslav leadership the whole time, that there should be no misunderstanding on that score.

We had plenty of incentive to make sure that we were doing everything conceivable on the diplomatic front, and it came in different forms. The issue of ground troops was looming out there, at some point it would become inescapable, not least because of the planning that would be required in order to make sure that we had the option available to us in the time in which it would do us any good as it were, but as I say there was no shortage of inspiration to use every conceivable ounce of energy that we had, every hour that we had, and I think it all kind of came together in a way during that long night in the Petersburg and the next day, and of course we were then in some suspense over what would happen when the two envoys went down to Belgrade. We wanted to make sure that the issue of ground troops was primarily going to translate into pressure on Milosevic to say Uncle, rather than pressure in any other less constructive directions.

There was also an issue of, the make-up of the peacekeeping force.

Right. That was the issue on which we spent perhaps the second most attention, this is the question of NATO at the core of the international security presence. We on the alliance side, felt that this was the "family jewels" for the reason that, among other things, we could argue to the Russians made practical sense from their standpoint. If the international force, the military force that went into Kosovo was ham strung, or anything other than very robust, it wasn't going to be able to do the job, it wasn't going to be able to restore order, it wasn't going to be able to deal with violence from several different directions, and there was only one institution which could make it robust, and that was NATO. And in the end this came down to a question largely of format in the document. There was a moment, well actually there were two moments -- one during the late night session and then another the next morning, when Chernomyrdin looked me in the eye and he said, "I want your word that if Milosevic agrees to this document that we're working on, if he agrees and then sticks by his agreement, if it's implemented, that the NATO bombing will stop," and I was able to give him that word as long as there was total understanding among us about what the key questions were, what the family jewels were, and one of the family jewel issues was this question of NATO at the core. Now in the end, because it was exceedingly difficult from a political standpoint for Russia to endorse the central leading role of NATO in what became KFOR, the Kosovo force, they did not want to have it in the body of the document, so we did it in a fairly elaborate footnote, and one way we were able to justify doing it in a footnote is that, in a very real sense, this was not Milosevic's business. Milosevic's business was to get out of Kosovo, to let the international community come in and run the place. Our business, including with the Russians, was who exactly was going to come in and what the relationship was going to be between NATO, as an institution, and the non-NATO participants, who were contributors to the Kosovo force, so that's one of the reasons we were able to do it in a footnote, which took a lot of work, as footnotes and diplomacy often do.

So the agreement is reached and the two envoys head off to Belgrade, how do you hear about their success?

I was there in my room at the Petersburg waiting, actually I think I had gone for a run along the Rhine to relax a little bit and come back, and was straightening up after that, and I was watching CNN and I all of a sudden saw a building I recognized very vividly from a quarter of a century ago when I lived in Belgrade as a journalist, and that was the parliament building. I said, "I wonder why they are showing the parliament building in Belgrade," and it's because CNN was broadcasting that Milosevic had taken an agreement to the parliament for approval. I then got a call from Chernomyrdin himself, who said that it was going quite well, and he would want to talk to me again. I got another call, and it was Mr. Chernomyrdin calling from right outside of Milosevic's office, he was calling on a cell phone and kind of whispering to me, and I could hear voices jabbering away in Serbian in the background, and Mr. Chernomyrdin said, "I think we've done it," and he said, "Now we've got to implement. Can you, Strobe, make sure that your military, and that means NATO high command, is prepared to deal directly with the Yugoslav high command and work out the terms so that there is a cessation of hostilities?" and I said, "Absolutely, Viktor Stavanovich, I will get on to it right away." One of my friends and travelling companions in this whole venture was an Air Force 3 star general named Doc Fogelsong, who represents the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and frequently travels with Secretary Albright, and in this case was travelling with me, and I got Doc, who had also been out running along the Rhine to come in, and I talked this through with him, he got in touch with General Shelton and Ralston, the joint chiefs of staff back here in Washington, and also was in touch with General Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, and set in motion the mechanism to get NATO talking to the Serb military.

Mr. Chernomyrdin headed back to Moscow for what was a fairly, shall we say, chilly reception, because there was a lot of opposition back in Russia, shortsighted I think to what he had done, but he was absolutely determined, and my several phone conversations with him afterwards, he basically blew off the criticism that he was getting. He was saying, you know, this is a good deal, it's the right thing for the region and it's the right thing for Russia, and he was proud of what he had accomplished, and he should have been.

President Ahtisaari flew to Bonn in order to report to the European Union heads of state government who were gathered there. I went out and waited for him on the tarmac, his plane pulled up, he got down, he got into his car, and we spent about fifteen, twenty minutes together. We just drove off the tarmac and pulled over on the side so he could give me a full report on what he had both heard and had accomplished. I then got out of his car, he went on to Bonn to brief the EU leaders, my own car picked me up, I went back to the side of our aircraft and reached President Clinton, Secretary Albright, Sandy Berger on a conference call and said, "I think the deal is done, and now we need to move to the next stage, which is implementation."

What did they say to you when you told them the deal is done?

Well, there was no popping of champagne corks, because while the deal was done, Milosevic hadn't kept his end of it, and we've had plenty of experience with his double-dealing, so you know it's not over until it's over, and it's still not over with that guy. In any event, they were clearly pleased with what had happened so far, but they understood that we had a lot of tough work ahead of us, and I got in my aircraft and went off to Brussels, to report to Secretary General Solana and to the permanent representatives of the North Atlantic Council, and while I was doing that, General Clark actually came in a few minutes late, after I began my briefing, and told the group that he had just heard from the chief of the defense staff of Yugoslavia. So General Fogelsong's efforts had paid off, we had fulfilled our promise to Mr. Chernomyrdin, and the result of that was the meeting at the border, which had its own suspense associated with it.

The matter of Russian participation and KFOR had not been resolved.

To put it mildly. The trickiest piece of unfinished business, even though the border talks have begun between the Serbian military and NATO, and we were clearly heading for a withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, was the question of who exactly, under what arrangement and auspices would be coming in, and that left open the question of Russia's role in what became known as KFOR, or the Kosovo force. So back I went to Moscow to work on this issue with the Russian leadership. In the course of the day that I spent in Moscow there were repeated reports that Russian forces stationed as part of the peace-keeping operation in Bosnia were moving towards Bosnia and presumptively through toward Kosovo, and I kept asking the Russians I was dealing with, including Foreign Minister Ivanov, and the National Security Adviser, Mr. Putin, who is now the prime minister of Russia, what was this all about, and kept being told, "Oh, don't worry about that, we just want to have some troops who are pre-deployed outside of Kosovo, but ready to come in as a part of an arrangement with NATO." I concluded those talks with that understanding -- no deployment of Russian forces in to Kosovo unless and until there is a clear cut agreement with NATO.

And you made that clear.

You bet, absolutely, and they agreed with it. So then I got on my plane and headed back out. About the time we were just about to leave Russian air space I got a call, it was a conference call, there were a number of people on it. Secretary Albright was on the call, she was in Macedonia working on, among other things, the huge refugee problem down there, Sandy Berger, the National Security Adviser, and there were some others on the call as well. The bottom line was that there was now every indication that contrary to the assurances that I had gotten, the Russian forces were in fact getting ready to deploy into Serbia and into Kosovo. So Secretary Albright suggested that I pull a Primakov. Now what that meant was, that was a kind of an in joke, the then prime minister Primakov had been making a trip to the United States when the war began, and had turned his plane round, done a U-turn, and gone back to Moscow. The difference between my U-turn and his was that he did a U-turn in order to disengage, I did a U-turn back to Moscow in order to re-engage with the Russians, which I did. We landed, we went into the embassy to huddle with Jim Collins, our ambassador in Moscow, and prepare for another round of meetings with the Russians, and while we were doing that CNN was carrying live coverage of these Russian forces moving steadily towards Kosovo. I then met with Foreign Minister Ivanov and several of his colleagues. to develop some more specific proposals about how exactly Russia would participate in this force. The key issue here was whether Russia would, as it wanted, indeed demanded, have its own sector, its very own piece of real estate with a Russian flag, and that would be outside of NATO's command. That was absolutely a non starter as far as we were concerned, again for very practical reasons. If there had been a free-standing Russian sector outside of the NATO chain of command it would have become an enclave where the Serbs would have gathered and huddled, and no doubt conducted violent operations against the Kosovo Albanians. It would have been an attractive nuisance, that is the Kosovo Albanians would have carried out violent operations against the Russian sector. It would have been dangerous for everybody, including Russian peace keepers, it would have been basically the de facto partition of Kosovo and guaranteed continuation of the war. We made that case.

About a couple of hours into this discussion foreign minister Ivanov got a call, he was pulled out, and he came back and said he had been talking both to the Kremlin and to the Ministry of Defense, and we were to adjourn our discussions over to the Military of Defense. So another memorable night. We went over there about 8.00 p.m. and negotiated without a major breakthrough I would say until 5.00 a.m. in the morning. Towards the end of this session I got a call from Jim Steinberg, my friend and colleague on the National Security Council staff, saying you know, it's all very well and good that you're talking to the Russians about all this, but meanwhile I'm sitting here at my desk in the White House watching on CNN as Russian armoured personnel carriers move in to Pristina, that is in to Kosovo, which to put it mildly was not what I was hearing from the Russians across the table from me, and that included the foreign minister, the minister of defense and the chief of the defense staff. So with this kind of clash between the facts on the ground and the assurances we were getting from the Russians the talks came to a fairly abrupt halt, although foreign minister Ivanov released a statement right there from the Ministry of Defense saying that this would have been a mistake, the Russian forces had kind of accidentally gone in to Kosovo and would be coming out. It wasn't a mistake, or at least it was a mistake, but a deliberate one, and they didn't come out, they holed up at the Pristina airport for the next week.

When you heard the news that they were at the airport, you went back into the room. It's obviously been a long night, what did you say to them?

I told them the facts, and then studied very closely the sort of body English or body Russian on the other side of the table, and tried to figure out who was surprised and who wasn't.

What did you see?

Let's put it this way, I think this was a real moment of testing for Russian democracy. I think it was a very serious moment of testing for the key principle of civilian control of the military. I also do not think that there was total harmony even on the military side of the equation, not to mention between the civilian and the military. It was quite a dramatic moment. In any event, the dawn was coming, and everybody was pretty exhausted and we . . .

And you saw confusion there.

You bet. Absolutely. I think what clearly was happening is that the Russian military jumped the gun, I think quite deliberately, in order to establish as it were a reality or new facts on the ground, so that it would be in a stronger position to bargain for what it wanted, which was a Russian sector. In any event, the next morning I asked to see Mr. Putin again, reminded him of our conversation the day before. I went back to see foreign minister Ivanov, and out of that came an agreement that this question of how exactly Russia would relate to KFOR should be handled at the level of defense ministers.

To make a long story short those negotiations did produce an agreement which, by the way, is working very well today. The Russians are part of three sectors in Kosovo, but they are very much a part of an operation that has unity of NATO command, and they are conducting themselves with a high degree of professionalism. I have heard from my Pentagon colleagues nothing but positives about the way it's going.

In terms of the bigger picture, did it make sense to do something about the airport in the context of what you were working on, which was the larger relationship.....

The premium here was on resolving it peacefully. I mean this was a relatively small Russian force, and we wanted, we did not for a variety of reasons, including the effectiveness of what we were trying to do in Kosovo, but also what we were trying to preserve and rebuild in the way of NATO/Russian relations and US/Russian relations, we did not want this incident to spoil everything else, and it certainly had the potential to do that, and we made that very clear, both with the military folks we were talking to, and then with the senior Kremlin folks that we saw the next day.

There has been some suggestion that the Russians had a deal with Milosevic ...

It's not a theory that quite hangs together, given what happened. I've heard the speculation. I certainly can't confirm it because I doubt it, but I can't definitively deny it. Just the way thing worked out would indicate that if it was a deal it was one that they couldn't deliver on, and frankly given the amount of time that particularly Generals Casey and Fogelsong and I had spent with the Russians on this question of a Russian sector, the Russians should have known they would never be able to, and I think did know they could never deliver, on that deal. For week in and week out, we had hammered away at why there had to be unity of command as well as NATO at the core, there couldn't have been any misunderstanding I think on the part of at least the Russians who were listening carefully and certainly, certainly Mr. Chernomyrdin was listening carefully.

How close were we in this whole drama of severely damaging US/Russian relations?

Well, there's no question that the Kosovo episode put US/Russian relations and NATO/Russian relations under extraordinary strain, and that strain escalated as you went from Day 1 to Day 78 of the bombing, but the key point here is one that I've touched on before, and that is Russia is only going to do in these situations what it can justify in terms of its own national interests. Russia feels that it has a very heavy investment in a fundamentally co-operative, as opposed to a fundamentally competitive relationship with the United States and the other member states of NATO, and I think it was because the Russians themselves, President Yeltsin, Foreign Minister Ivanov,

Mr. Chernomyrdin, all of them knew that that was in jeopardy, and that if that co-operative relationship were to disintegrate as a result of Kosovo, it would be bad for Russia.

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